I am grateful to the Business Committee for scheduling this opportunity and this session so quickly. Yesterday was a very difficult day for the leaving certificate class of 2020. The announcement that was made has inevitably generated much anxiety and worry for them. While the announcement yesterday was important, we could not provide all of the answers to their questions at that time. I apologise sincerely once again to the leaving certificate class of 2020 for what has happened.
Deputies will be aware that two errors in the calculated grade system for this year’s leaving certificate have been identified. They are errors that should not have occurred. I am very clear on that point. As part of work being done for the leaving certificate applied fifth year cohort, an inconsistency in how the data was performing was detected by Polymetrika International Inc., the contractor for the calculated grades process. Polymetrika contacted the calculated grades office on Tuesday evening to notify it that the inconsistency had been identified. It was agreed immediately that Polymetrika would seek to investigate this anomaly further and report back to the calculated grades executive office the following morning. This report was received by the calculated grades executive office on Wednesday morning and identified that Polymetrika had made a mistake in the writing of code for the standardisation process.
On Wednesday afternoon last, I was told that a mistake had been identified by Polymetrika. At that point, we knew that one line out of 50,000 lines of code had a mistake in it. We knew that mistake would impact on the results of some students but we did not know exactly how many would be affected. We knew it was important to find out as much as possible about the error before making an announcement. Polymetrika and the calculated grades executive office then began a detailed analysis of 50,000 lines of code, affecting more than 400,000 exam results.
The system was meant to take a number of factors into account in computing the leaving certificate results. Among these were the results of the students' junior cycle examinations, which were considered at an aggregated class level. It is important to say that the junior cycle results of individuals were not used to predict or influence their leaving certificate results. The data was to be used at an aggregated class level. The system was meant to draw on the core subjects of Irish, English and maths and combine them with students' two best non-core subjects. The coding error instead combined them with the students' two weakest non-core subjects.
In the course of the review which the calculated grades executive office immediately undertook on Friday, staff found a further error in the code. The results relating to civic, social and political education, CSPE, were meant to be disregarded by the system. They were not. They had been included in error. Following discovery of the second error, the calculated grades executive office undertook a detailed walk-through, taking every parameter and rule underpinning the standardisation model and verifying, in conjunction with the contractor, that it was working correctly.
While nothing further was found as a result of this exercise, I wanted a further level of assurance. As such, I instructed my Department to seek an independent expert to review the code, most importantly of all, to give our students the assurance they would now require. My Department has engaged Educational Testing Service, ETS, to provide a review to offer an independent expert opinion on the adequacy of the coding. Furthermore, it is my intention that a full review of the calculated grades process will be conducted in due course. ETS is a US-based not-for-profit organisation that conducts research and develops assessment programmes such as the scholastic assessment test, SAT. ETS is one of the largest testing and assessment services in the world. It develops and administers more than 50 million achievement and admissions tests each year at more than 9,000 locations in the United States and 180 other countries. We expect to have the outcome of ETS's work as soon as possible and I will make that information available at the earliest opportunity.
While we do not yet have the final figures, and we will not have them until the independent review which is under way has been completed, our checks to date indicate that the error has affected approximately 7,200 grades. There were over 400,000 calculated grades in total issued on 7 September. As a result of both errors, approximately 6,500 students received at least one result which was one grade lower than they should have. That has been rectified.
In addition to the students who received lower grades than they should have in this year's leaving certificate, some students received higher grades. They will not be affected in any way; their grades stand. Those who received lower grades will have their proper grades restored. When all the grades are completed, we will issue the corrected results to the students affected. As soon as it is possible to do so, every student will be contacted by text message and informed whether they are impacted upon. Those who are affected will be directed to the calculated grades student portal, where they will find a new statement of provisional results, which will replace the one they received on 7 September.
I would have liked to have had complete and final answers to all of the issues so that I would not be leaving students with questions once the issue was announced. I would also like to have had the certainty that everything had been cross-checked but that would have taken further days. We were conscious that the Central Applications Office, CAO, was issuing round three on Thursday and might need to incorporate what our analysis had revealed in their plans. The decision was therefore made to inform CAO on Wednesday morning of what we knew at that point and to call a press conference at 4 p.m. that day. Furthermore, a dedicated helpline for students was set up within my Department. This came into operation at 4 p.m. yesterday. All students received a text message yesterday advising them that an issue had arisen with the calculated grades. The Opposition were briefed in advance of the press conference.
The information I have outlined here is available to students on gov.ie/leavingcertificate. The dedicated helpline for students is available on 01 889 2199 and is open today and tomorrow from 8.30 a.m. until 5 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. In addition, the National Parents Council Post Primary, in conjunction with guidance counsellors, has kindly agreed to reopen its leaving certificate helpline for next week running from Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. I understand that approximately 200 calls from students and parents were made to the helpline yesterday afternoon and evening. Approximately a quarter of the calls sought further information on when the review process would be completed and revised results issued. Other topics included whether those with exemptions in Irish had their results properly reflected, when revised CAO offers would issue and a separate issue of when calculated grades appeals would be completed.
The announcement I made yesterday changes things for students. Even if for many of them it improves their situation, it should not have happened. On behalf of the Department of Education and Skills, I apologise sincerely to our leaving certificate students for the situation we are now in and for the upset it has caused. I appreciate that students and their families now want to know what happens next. The results data have now been rerun through the corrected model.
Once the review by ETS has been completed and the results are finalised, the Department will have full information on which students will benefit from improved grades and which specific subjects are involved for each student. The Department will then contact all students, advising them when they will receive a higher grade or grades, or whether they are not impacted. The Department will send a corrected file of student results to the CAO in order that it can work with higher educational institutions to determine if a student is due a new offer and to do everything possible to facilitate his or her admission.
Any student who would have been entitled to a different offer in previous CAO rounds if he or she had received the correct grade on 7 September will receive this offer or a deferred offer as soon as is practicable under the updated results. Equally, if students receive improved offers but would like to defer their places until next year, I would encourage them to contact the institutions concerned in order to establish if deferral is possible. It is important to say that this is in line with the practice that occurs in the appeals process every year.
Where a student who has already started college receives a deferred offer as a result of an upgrade, the student can continue in his or her existing course this year and, in respect of next year, remain eligible for free fees and Student Universal Support Ireland, SUSI, funding as if he or she was starting college for the first time. Any student who had applied to a higher educational institution outside the State who believes his or her grade change will impact upon those arrangements can contact the Department through a dedicated email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Students continue to have the option to register for the postponed written examinations. These will commence on 16 November. The closing date for this registration was to be tomorrow at 5 p.m. I have asked the State Examinations Commission to extend that registration deadline until next Wednesday.
I acknowledge that students have had an exceptionally difficult year and they have coped unbelievably well with the challenges posed by Covid-19. As was confirmed by the Taoiseach to the House yesterday, we will do everything to support students who now have the chance to change their course and might wish to do so.